The View From The Balcony

In yesterday’s post, “Rain Delays,” I wrote about how the first round of the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, Hawaii was yet another opportunity to employ the principles of mastery.

Because no one had been able to practice on the rain-soaked, closed driving range at the course for two days, the first guys out yesterday morning were forced to do so with little more than twenty minutes of warm-up.

But a funny thing about mastery. It comes with the wisdom of the years invested in whatever you’re devoted to and, while it needs to be nurtured with focus and practice, it doesn’t just disappear, to wit, Stuart Appleby. While some players snuck off to a public driving range to at least hit old, bald golf balls, Appleby decided to pass.

Instead, he went out on the fire escape at his hotel in the late afternoon with his sand wedge (a shorter, slightly heavier club) and spent about twenty minutes just swinging at imaginary golf balls. He was basically doing mirror-work in his mind; feeling all the twists and turns and angles and planes and flows of his swing as he watched his reflection in the hotel window.

In his interview with Kelly Tilgman on the Golf Channel, he said, in so many words, “What more am I going to learn going to a driving range than I already know in the 10 years I’ve been working on all this stuff?” (Those 10 years being  the “refining” years: coming up on his 40th birthday in May, he’s been playing golf a lot longer than that.)

All of this, his attitude about it, his trust in his innate wisdom and the kinesthetic feedback helped him develop an 11th hour refinement of his swing that allowed him to shoot the low round of the day, a surprising 6-under, 64. With all of the rain and delays and degraded course conditions, no one thought scores like that would be possible.

But a funny thing happened on the way by the Weather Channel forecast for yesterday. The 80% chance of rain overnight and 70% chance of rain through the day, turned into a brilliant, sunny day with a golf course in damp, but eminently playable conditions.

Typical of a veteran player, he made eight straight, steady pars on the front nine until he birdied the par-5 9th. And another on 12…and 13…and a hole-out eagle-2 on 16…and a final one on 17 which included a 35-foot putt to polish the day off.

So it will be interesting to see if he can follow up this exemplary round with another one. The vastly improved conditions provided a lot of quality competition from Justin Rose and Matt Kuchar, both one stroke back, and also the beneficiaries of having been able to play in last week’s Tournament of Champions in Maui. You can practice all you want, as most of the rest of the field has been doing, but it’s a pale substitute for being in the cauldron of big-time tournament play. Fourteen players from last week were inside the projected, 60-and-ties, cut line after the first round.

Late Breaking News

At least it’s late-breaking for me. Even though the two-day layoff from hitting balls was a major factor for the guys with early tee times yesterday, I discovered this morning that it wasn’t quite as brutal as I had originally portrayed. My description was based on warming up in the pale light of dawn more than once in my Monday qualifying career.

But the PGA Tour is…the PGA Tour! Here’s a photo that Stuart Appleby took this morning from his hotel room titled, “Early guys on the range at 6:45 am.” You can’t see a lot of detail, but what you can see is that–wait for it–the range is lighted! Geez! I coulda been a contender.

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